Climbing Pico, the highest mountain in Portugal

Natacha Costa | Live the World

September 19, 2022

Your visit to Pico Island can never be complete without climbing its name-sake volcano. With its 2351 metre peak, Pico is the highest mountain in Portugal, and a real treat for anyone who enjoys hiking. Pico, simply called the mountain by the locals, is omnipresent and will 'follow' you every step you make around the island. You still see it from other islands of the central group (Faial and S. Jorge) and soon it becomes your travelling buddy, helping you to find your way around at any moment, and making the most amazing scenery for your trip to Azores.

Climbing Pico is not technically demanding, but it also isn't a simple hike. You need to be somewhat fit, and you definitely need a pair of good shoes. Hiking sticks can be useful, too. All of this because you will be stepping on all sorts of volcanic formations, from huge lava flows to spiky and sharp smaller rocks, and it is vertical almost all the way. The hike itself starts at 1200 meters where you have to check in at Casa da Montanha; even if you are going with a guide. There, you register (there is a 10€ fee), see a ten minute video about the mountain, the hike, and get safety tips. Also, you will be given a GPS device and your location will be tracked every minute for safety purposes. To get a better experience, you can also get a guided day hike to the top of Mount Pico.

Besides being lucky with the weather, starting early in the morning is very important, in order to avoid the sun while you are getting up. However, if you are hosted by a good friend who wants to take you for a coffee and breakfast in a nearby snack bar Toronto just before you start the adventure, as we were; leaving early become impossible. As for the weather, it's quite unpredictable. Even if the day looks great, you never know if it will start raining. Or, if you start in the rain it does not mean that it won't clear up in a while. Therefore, bring both sunglasses & sunscreen but also a rain coat!

There is a total of 47 numbered, wooden, and easily visible poles on the way to the peak. Once you reach nº44, you are already on the crater of the volcano, and the feeling is quite unique. I spent an hour just going around it, imagining that I was on another planet - which was not difficult at all to imagine! After that point there’s a final 100 meters summit to a mini-mountain called Piquinho ("Little peak") which is actually the hardest part of the climb.

In the beginning, the path is soil or mud, depending on the weather conditions. After a while, no more purple flowers and different kind of bushes, as the ground turns into lava rock. The terrain remains moon-like like until you have reached the peak. Even though I know little or nothing about geology, it was fascinating seeing clearly the different designs of the lava strands descending the hillside, the cooling wrinkles, the hollow lava tunnels we sometimes walked on, pink, green and brown rocks of several kinds. Climbing Pico, quite often you get to go through the clouds, as we did. Once you are above, the views pay off all the efforts. You can climb and descend the same day, but also, you can climb and camp on the crater at night and stay to see the sunset and the sunrise. We did not sleep over and before noon we had already reached the peak and found ourselves admiring 360-degree views of the Atlantic and the nearby islands of Faial and São Jorge, although with some clouds.

The weather is quite windy at the summit, and it was a nice surprise to discover a hole that belches out volcanic steam where you can warm up a little. The place is rather small, but perfect for a picnic, just sitting and taking in the view and silence, and obviously for taking photos, like this one of myself.

For serious climbers 2351 meters might not sound impressive, but, there's a twist to this. If measured from their base at the bottom of the ocean to their peaks, the Azores are actually some of the tallest mountains on the planet! Somehow this makes the ideia of climbing Pico more exciting.

There are many interesting things to do around the island of Pico, like visiting Whalers’ Museum in Lajes do Pico, or sipping a drink in Cella bar (awarded for its unique architecture). However, if you have just a day to spend here, this is the way to spend it! Don't miss your chance to climb this wild but at the same time friendly volcano.

If you are curios to know more about the Azores, look for the related stories about each of the 3 groups of islands. To learn about the Archipelago in general, see this story about why the Azores are the best kept secret of Europe.

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